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Driving Change

Micromobility drives toward broader acceptance

Urban redesigns inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and consumer interest in greener commuting options are putting more e-bikes, scooters and the like on the streets.

Lime e-bikes

Image courtesy of Lime Micromobility

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Although the micromobility market faced significant ridership and revenue declines during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is evidence that 2022 will bring about a more prosperous year.

"The pandemic caused, in many ways, tailwinds in our industry," said Andrew Savage, vice president of sustainability at Lime Micromobility, one of the most prominent electric scooter and bike rental companies in the world. "From focus on personal health, to addressing climate change to how cities prioritize space for people to get around. We certainly did a lot of maturing over the last several years."

Micromobility refers to small and lightweight modes of transportation typically operated by a single person, such as electric scooters and electric bikes. The global micromobility market was valued at $40.19 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $195.42 billion by 2030, according to Valuates Reports. The market research company also reported that the industry is still in its infancy and that its growth will be determined by regulatory approval and consumer acceptance.

A particular form of growth experienced by the micromobility industry comes from the push for lower-emitting modes of transportation and the infrastructure to support them, positioning micromobility companies in a space to capitalize on those changes.

"Cities have faced a dual threat [from] COVID-19 and climate change both coming to a head in really acute ways in the last two years," Savage said. "We've seen major new street design and space for micromobility [being offered] and that only helps cement the role that micromobility can play."

If the micromobility industry is to deliver on its potential of decarbonizing transportation, companies on an individual level will need to evaluate their carbon footprints and understand what steps can be taken to reduce them.

Such developments, which carve out a relevant niche for micromobility companies, will continue to have a place in the future if cities and governments commit to reducing emissions.

A study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released last month concluded that reducing carbon emissions to their fullest extent will require limiting car usage, more compact/mix-used cities, expanded public transit and higher priority on walking and biking.

Implementing these changes could reduce travel-induced greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas by as much as 80 percent across the next 30 years, the study suggested.

"I think what is really encouraging is you're seeing cities, changing streets to deprioritize cars and essentially, that's accelerating the ability of micromobility to serve a gap in transportation that's existed since the advent of the car," Savage said.

Lime plans for an ambitious 2022, finishing off this year with a recent $523 million raised in convertible debt and term loan financing. The growth in capital will contribute to the company’s expansion and improvement of its fleet according to Savage. Lime expects to go public sometime in 2022, according to statements made by its CEO.

A more viable commuting option?

Alongside the civic interest in reducing urban greenhouse gas emissions, more people are open to micromobility alternatives ranging from bicycles to mopeds to scooters, according to a report conducted by the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility in July. Nearly 70 percent of respondents, for example, said they were willing to use micromobility vehicles to tackle their commutes.

The report noted that micromobility companies will have to consider differing levels of uptake in different countries, given location-specific factors and vehicle preferences.

Bird, another leading micromobility company, is also seeing promising changes to its business in the year ahead. A spokesperson for the publicly traded company wrote in an e-mail that Bird continues to see people turning to micro-electric vehicles for transportation.

According to the spokesperson, the average ride length in time for 2021 set a record high, clocking in at 58 percent longer worldwide compared to 2019.

However, Bird’s success is not limited to sprawling urban centers throughout the world. The Santa Monica, California-based company, which operates in more than 350 cities globally, has also tried to capitalize on small and moderately sized cities.

One example is Vernal, Utah, a small rural city with a population of around 10,000. Riders in the region use Bird scooters for both alternative transportation and recreation.

Savage said Lime has also expanded to moderately sized cities, finding success in places such as Le Havre, a commune in France, and Lubbock, Texas. He added that the company’s focus is on urban centers. Some of Lime’s largest markets include Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Washington, D.C.

Bird Three

In 2021, Bird unveiled and piloted the Bird Three, its third-generation e-scooter. Image courtesy of Bird

The quest to reduce emissions  

Both Lime and Bird are refining their operational focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, another factor that could appeal to companies seeking lower-carbon transportation options for their workforces.

Bird successfully offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its shared scooter service in 2020 and was the first micromobility signatory featured in the United Nations Global Compact initiative. The company also unveiled and piloted the Bird Three last year, its third-generation e-scooter. The scooter is more durable than its predecessor and features a larger battery that increases range and decreases carbon emissions throughout the scooter’s lifecycle.

Meanwhile, Lime recently set a carbon target to decarbonize its business over the course of the next decade, a goal validated and monitored by the Science Based Targets initiative. Among other things, the initiative brings together experts to provide companies with independent assessment and validation of targets on an ongoing, annual basis.

Savage said that if the micromobility industry is to deliver on its potential of decarbonizing transportation, companies on an individual level will need to evaluate their carbon footprints and understand what steps can be taken to reduce them.

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